Coast-to-coast conductor Antoine Clark calls central Ohio home
Not long ago, Columbus conductor Antoine Clark found himself extremely busy and a little worried.
The day after his guest conducting debut with the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, Clark drove home nonstop to Worthington to conduct a concert on which he was also performing as clarinet soloist. Around the same time, he was shepherding the McConnell Arts Center Chamber Orchestra – which he founded in 2009 – into a new era as the Worthington Chamber Orchestra, while also preparing for his conducting debuts with the Wheeling and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestras.
Amid this whirlwind of activity, Clark had no time to be anxious about the actual task of conducting. But he did wonder if he would have enough time to fit in all of his performances and the countless hours on the road between them.
“I had some anxiety about, will I be able to do all of this?” Clark said.
Clark asks himself this question increasingly often these days. Since 2017 his list of guest conducting engagements has grown steadily longer and is now expanding coast to coast. This year Clark will make his West Coast debut with Symphony Tacoma and will conduct the New Jersey Symphony and the Spartanburg Philharmonic for the first time. These engagements build on Clark’s earlier guest conducting appearances with the Richmond Symphony, the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, the Vermont Symphony, the Elgin Symphony Orchestra and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.
As he grows his guest conducting career, Clark will also continue in several regular conducting positions with professional orchestras – as assistant conductor of the Wheeling Symphony and of the Gateway Music Festival in Rochester, NY, and as artistic and music director of the Worthington Chamber Orchestra.
Right now the wheels have stopped rolling long enough for Clark to be at home in central Ohio preparing for the second concert on the Worthington Chamber Orchestra’s Benedicta Enrile Masterworks Series. “The Romantics and Mozart” will take place Sunday, Feb. 5 at 5 p.m. in Worthington United Methodist Church and will feature Mozart’s Symphony No. 40, Tchaikovsky’s Orchestral Suite No. 4 “Mozartiana” and Glazunov’s Saxophone Concerto, with Columbus saxophonist Michael Cox as soloist.
Soon after that concert, Clark’s respite at home will end, and he’ll hit the road again to make the often long and solitary drives to and from guest conducting gigs. And while seeing a conductor onstage may make conducting seem glamorous, there’s a lot of work behind the apparent glory of the podium, especially early on in an orchestral conductor’s career.
For one thing, as with most types of jobs, getting conducting jobs is a job in itself. Clark has developed his guest conducting career entirely through networking and referrals, without the aid of an agent.
“I don’t have an agent. I don’t have an assistant. So if I’m going to fly, I book the flights myself. If I’m going to drive, I have to make sure I understand where I’m going and use the GPS and just do all the preparation that it takes to travel. But I’m grateful to have these opportunities, so having to travel a little bit, even though it can be hectic sometimes, is part of the package,” Clark said.
Also part of the package is a heavy dose of administrative work – emails, meetings, budgeting. Clark says the bulk of his work as a conductor takes place off the podium.
“People that want to be a conductor really have to understand that the majority of our work is not the music making aspect of it, rehearsing musicians or doing the concerts,” Clark said. “A lot of our time is devoted to administration. Programming a season takes quite a bit of time. And involved in that is understanding the instrumentation, understanding the budget for what a program would cost. My day, generally, is filled with answering emails. It’s not an easy formula. It takes one to be good at time management and being flexible with their schedule in order to make it all work.”
And when it does work, when a conductor brings together the myriad musical and administrative pieces into a mosaic of sound, the result can be magical. There’s no experience that affirms one’s faith in humanity quite like hearing dozens of people make beautiful music together.
But beyond the emails and meetings, beyond the miles on the road between conducting gigs, beyond the hours rehearsing the music, Clark says there’s one ingredient the very best conductors bring their orchestras.
“I’ve found that musicians love it when you trust them,” Clark said. “Musicians are people, and they want to make great music and they want to have fun with you. And when you create that environment, everyone works well together.”
Antoine Clarks conducts the Worthington Chamber Orchestra in “The Romantics and Mozart” Sunday, Feb. 5 at 5 p.m. at Worthington United Methodist Church.